Thursday, June 30, 2016

Tips for Animal Kingdom

For this week's Travel Thursday, I explore my tips for the Animal Kingdom:

Quick Service Meal for Two: The Flaming Tree BBQ offers a great combination platter that can easily feed two people. It’s a bargain if you are on the Disney Dining Plan and even if you are not.

Single Rider Line: Expedition Everest has a single rider line that is a little tricky to find. As you are looking at the ride – go all the way to the building that houses the gift shop and look toward your left or just ask the staff person standing out front.

Air Conditioning (Nap) Breaks: Both the Festival of the Lion King show and the Finding Nemo the Musical shows are excellent and a great spot to cool off.

Characters: Adventurers’ Outpost is an indoor greeting area that hosts Mickey and Minnie and offers a Fast Pass. DinoLand and Discovery Island also have areas where Disney characters will be available.

Be Sure to Check Out:
  • The Dinosaur Play area – A great place for kids to run around.
  • If you are tired of navigating the crowds, take the Wildlife Express Train out to the Petting Zoo or go to the Flights of Wonder Show. It’s a nice break with some real animals.
  • Wilderness Explorers - Patterned after the Wilderness Explorers from the movie Up, this interactive adventure focuses on learning more about the animals and cultures featured in the Animal Kingdom. When you sign up, you receive a booklet highlighting 32 different badges. They discourage you from trying to get all the badges in one day. Throughout the Park, stations are marked with a symbol noting which badge you can receive at that station. The Wilderness Explorer guide will teach you a little bit about the animal or culture the badge is highlighting and then gives you a small challenge or question to complete. It's a great way to highlight all the animals and add an educational component to a fun day at the Animal Kingdom.
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris - This is a great ride through the African Safari. Take advantage of Animal Kingdom's evening hours and schedule a Fast Pass for sunset.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Is It an Adventure or a Vacation? How to Decide What to Do While Traveling

For today's Travel Tuesday, I discussed how to decide what to do while on vacation:

The first decision when planning a vacation is to decide how we were getting to where you want to go. Are you driving, taking a train, or flying?

If you're taking a train or flying, you want to make sure you know how you're getting from the station or airport to your hotel. Most cities have several options you could choose. Public transportation, shared troubles, or private transfers.

Public transportation can be a bus, a train, or a hybrid of both. To investigate that, the best place to go is the airport's website. Not the airline, the airport. The airport website will indicate what are the public transportation options leading into and out of that airport.

If you want a shared shuttle, the first thing to check is to see if your hotel offers a free shuttle to the airport. It is sometimes listed on the hotel's website or you can call the hotel directly and ask. Shared shuttle service like Super Shuttle should also be listed on the airport's website.

If you’d like to travel with only your own party, then you have private car options. This includes taxis, Uber, or car service. Taxis or Uber can be arranged at the airport. Car service is better if you arrange it in advantage. You can choose between sedans, limos or larger vans.  

A little pre-research into activities before you leave can go a long way. First, what do you like to do? Are you looking for outdoor activities, roadside attractions, great restaurants, festivals, sporting events? What would be the most interesting to you?

If I haven’t been to a city before, I have a go-to list of topics that I google:

·        The dates, the city, and “festival” or “fest”

·        “Must See” and the name of the city

·        I always check if there is a Hop On/Hop Off bus. Even if you don’t want to take that type of tour, the routes will show you the most popular tourist attractions.

·        Restaurants

o   I watch a lot of food shows so I visit to check for restaurants that have been featured on TV.

o   For more high end restaurant options in the US, visit the James Beard foundation to check for award winners at your location.

o   For international restaurants, the Michelin guide is a great resource.

o   I also google to see if cooking classes or food tours are available. It’s a great way to learn more about the local culture. We took a cooking class in Australia and it was a great way to meet local residents.

·        Sporting events – I check the major sport team schedules.

·        Local newspaper – I search for the major newspaper in that area and check the Things to Do or calendar section.

·        Excursions – I check the local tourist board to see what the popular activities are in a given area. Is there snorkeling? Zip lining? ATV tours? That’s a great way to get an overview of what’s available.

What’s your favorite activity on vacation?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What to Expect when visiting Disney World

Recently I got a great question about the logistics of visiting Disney World. For today's Travel Thursday, I reviewed  a few key things you will need to know when heading to Disney World.

1.  You can bring food and drinks into the Parks. You cannot bring large coolers, but there are lockers where you can store smaller soft sided coolers as long as they are smaller than 24" long x 15" wide x 18" high.  It will be inspected as you go into the park.

2. Disney Transportation System - If you drive to the Magic Kingdom, you will park at the transportation center. Then you will have to board a boat or the monorail to head to the actual Magic Kingdom.  If you are coming from a Disney Resort, you will go straight to the Magic Kingdom. For the other Parks,  the Disney Resort buses will pull up in one particular section near the park. There is a separate section for motor coaches and shuttles that go to non-Disney  Resorts. If you are staying at a resort that is not a Disney Resort, you'll need to head to the group bus section.

3. Park's Opening Ceremonies - Pay close attention to the opening times of each Parks. The parks can open as early as 15 minutes before the posted time as they start a special opening ceremony called Rope Drop.

4. Strollers - If you want to take a stroller on any time of Disney transportation, you must be able to collapse it. When using the stroller within a Park, you will utilize the stroller parking areas. As you can see below,  A LOT of strollers are parked together so you may want to consider adding some unique additions to make your stroller stand out: a large bow or luggage tag. In Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, you can buy a balloon and tie it to your stroller. Be sure not to leave any valuables in your stroller.

You can rent a stroller for use within the Disney Parks.
  • If you rent from Disney World, it is $15 per day for a single stroller that accommodates a child up to 50 pounds or a double stroller that accommodates up to 100 lbs. Strollers cannot be removed from the parks. When visiting more than one park in a single day, simply present your rental receipt at another park to obtain a replacement. This can be a hassle as many parents relay on the stroller to transfer sleep children back to the resort.
  • If you'd like to rent a stroller for the entire visit, you can use a stroller rental company like Magic Strollers, Orlando Stroller Rentals or Kingdom Strollers. The stroller will be delivered to your resort and waiting for you.
  • A third option is to ship a stroller via Amazon to the resort a couple of days in advance. Be sure to check the resort's rules and regulations. Some resorts that also have convention centers like The Contemporary may charge to accept a delivery.

5. Baby Care Centers - If you are traveling with small children,  each of the Parks has a baby center. This is an area with a private nursing room, changing tables and unisex bathrooms, feeding area with high chairs, a main lounge with a TV, and a kitchen with microwave, oven and sink. Here's the locations:
  • Magic Kingdom: Off Main Street near Crystal Palace
  • Epcot: In the building between Test Track and Mexico
  • Hollywood Studios: In the Guest Services Building immediately to your left as you enter the Park
  • Animal Kingdom; Building just past Creature Comforts

6. Smoking is only allowed in special areas within the Park. The areas are marked on the Park map.

7. Dress codes - Costumes are not allowed for adults.  One  cute way I've seen people get around that is to dress in  a color theme of a character  For instance, I saw a woman wearing a pair of yellow shorts a blue v-neck shirt,  and then had a red bow in her hair. She gave the impression of Snow White without breaking the rules. Be sure your attire covers all the private areas and does not have offensive logos or wording.

8. Prohibited Items - No Selfie Sticks. Nothing with wheels including those wheelie shoes. Strollers and Medical Scooters are the only exceptions. Balloons are prohibited at the Animal Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Lodge. No folding chairs. No weapons. No alcohol.

As always, if you have any questions, please email me or set up a time to chat.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Travel Tuesday - How to Pack

For today's Travel Tuesday - I am taking you inside my packing style. Learn how I decide what to take, my must-haves in the my carry-on and a tip on how to stay organized during your travel.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Tips for Magic Kingdom

Today's Travel Thursday focuses on my tips for visiting Disney World's Magic Kingdom:

One way to save money is to find quick service meals to share. My recommendation is Cosmic Rays Starlight Care in Tomorrowland has a large rib and chicken combo platter.

Best Table Service Dining: I think Skipper's Canteen has the most interesting menu. Be Our Guest feels like you are eating in Beast's castle. Be Our Guest also has a quick service breakfast and lunch.

Characters: Princess Fairytale Hall, Pete's Silly Sideshow, and Town Square Theater offer indoor character meet and greets. You can meet additional characters near their attractions. For example, Tigger and Pooh appear near the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Gaston appears near his Tavern.

Air Conditioning (Nap) Breaks: The Hall of Presidents offers a lovely respite. It’s a Small World and Laugh Floor are two of the longer attractions rides that can help cool you off. If the weather is not too hot, the Walt Disney World Railroad offers a 15-20 minute ride circling the park. You can stay on as long as you'd like so it offers a great opportunity for a little nap. 

Be Sure to Check Out:
Disney’s PhilHarMagic – I think this is the best 3D show at Disney World.
Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom – A game you play throughout the park. You can pick up the cards needed to play and receive instructions at the Fire House located to the left as you enter the park. 

Wishes Nighttime Spectacular – This is a fantastic fireworks show. You can also view it from the California Grill on top of the Contemporary Hotel. Reservations may be hard to get, but you can always go up for a drink. 

Buzz Lightyear's Space Ranger Spin - Get high points by pointing at target's further away. Plus you can hold down the trigger for more efficient shooting.

What are your favorite attractions at Magic Kingdom? 

Waldorf Astoria Orlando Review

The Waldorf Astoria Orlando provides a great location to base a relaxing Disney World vacation. The resort is located in the Bonnet Creek complex next to the Hilton Bonnet Creek. It's situated on a golf course with a gorgeous pool.

Cabanas are available to rent for between $300 - $350 per day.

The resort has four restaurants plus room service:

Bull and Bear is a signature steakhouse. I had the best ribeye I've ever had there.

Peacock Alley is the lobby lounge. It's a large lounge with big windows overlooking the pool, golf course and offers a sunset view. The menu is small plates. On select Fridays and Saturdays, the resort sets up a chocolate bar.

Aquamarine offers serves salads, sandwiches, wings, and flatbreads by the pool. Click here for the menu.

Oscar's Brassiere is the spot for breakfast with a breakfast buffet or a la carte menu.

If that's not enough, the restaurants at the Waldorf Astoria Golf Club and Hilton Bonnet are walking distance.


The resort offers a free shuttle to the Parks. The schedule can be found by clicking here. The shuttle run hourly to the Parks and every half hour returning from the Parks. Note - the buses will not be in the same area as the Disney Transportation buses. You'll want to look for signs directing you to the charter bus areas. The buses also do not run for Special Events. If you are running a Disney race, attending a holiday party at Magic Kingdom or an after hours special events, you'll need your own transportation.

Kids' Programming

You can choose between Day Escape from 10:30 am - 2:30 pm or Astoria After Dark from 6:00 pm - 10:00 pm. Program cost is $75 for one child and $25 per each additional child registered in the same or adjoining room. Reservations are required and can be made through the concierge.

These great programming creates the opportunity for a little adult time at the Spa or a round of Golf.

If you have any questions or would like to explore if this resort could be right for your family vacation, email me or set a free consultation.

Travel Thursday: An Upscale Disney Experience

A vacation to Disney World doesn't have to be themed rooms or polyester bedspreads. The addition of a Four Seasons and a Waldorf Astoria to the Disney World campus has upped the luxury game. I recently spent a night at the Waldorf Astoria Orlando. For a more detailed review, click here.

The one thing to know about staying at these resorts is that they do not qualify for the Disney Dining Plan, Disney transportation or the early access to the Fast Pass+ reservations. Fast Pass+ reservations will open at 30 days in advance. The resorts do have their own transportation which runs a little less frequently than the regular Disney buses and are located in the group bus area. This is why some guests will decide to use a private car service or take taxis between the Parks.

When it comes to dining Disney is also upping its game. Restaurants like Bull & Bear, bluezoo, Yachtsman Steakhouse, Narcoossee's, California Grill, and Victoria and Albert's all provide a fine dining experience within the Disney complex.

Wedge Salad at Bull and Bear

You can also carve out VIP experiences within each of the parks.  VIP tour guides are available to provide special perks like door-to-door transportation from your resort, preferred seating during select entertainment offerings and expedited entry to FastPass+ attractions. The cost of each Private Premium VIP Tour varies between $400 and $600 per hour, depending on the season.

Behind the scenes tours offer exclusive access to off-limits areas of the parks. Backstage Magic takes you through the underground cast member passageways and meet the costume designers. You can snorkel or dive in the Aquarium at Epcot. You can have a small group safari through Wild Africa Trek, Savor the Savannah Evening Safari Experience, or the Starlight Safari at Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge.

Another great way to create a VIP experience is to rent a boat for an evening. You can rent one with a captain or navigate one on your own.

You can explore  the Seven Seas Lagoon or the lagoon near Epcot to watch the fireworks. If you are traveling with a group of friends or family, we can arrange a private reception at one of the secret rooms in the Parks. Do you know there's a secret room the Living Seas at Epcot where you can view the aquarium while you have a cocktail hour? Disney World is home to two fantastic spas, golf courses, and lakes fit for fishing. Whatever your interest, we can customize a VIP experience for your family.

One great way to have a VIP Experience for FREE is ride the trolleys at Magic Kingdom. Between the park opening and 10 am, trolleys run up and down Main Street. If you see one parked, climb aboard. You'll feel like you are part of a parade.

So the lesson here is if you are a traveler who love the life of luxury, you don't have to give it up to go to Disney World.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Aruba Adults Only All Inclusive: RIU Palace Antillas

I recently spent three nights at the adults only all-inclusive  RIU Palace Antillas on Palm Beach in Aruba. Click here for the three things to know about vacationing in Aruba.

What to explore how much a package costs from your city? Click here.

Swim Up Bar and Beach at RIU Palace Antillas

Staying at an all-inclusive resort in Aruba is a little controversial since the island has so many amazing restaurants. We enjoyed the convenience of not having to worrying about a bill for drinks, breakfast or lunch.

Join me for a tour and a breakdown of the RIU Palace Antillas.

The Good
  • Food was very good at the buffet. The resort offered a lot of choices and had several stations where the food was prepared fresh in front of you. 
  • Beach is gorgeous. As you enter the water, it has that gorgeous white sand. One thing to know as you walk from the boardwalk to the water, the sand is a little rocky. I think they filled in the beach to make it wider. Once you get to the water, it's gorgeous.
  • Lots of shade - The pool attendants will bring an umbrella to you. The beach has a lot of umbrellas.
  • Strong WiFi
  • Good bartenders - the bartenders made good drinks. They weren't as chatty as we have found at other resorts, but that meant the service was efficient.
  • Spa - The Spa is operated by a different company so you won't be able to charge to the room.
  • Casino
  • Adults only with good mix of groups, girls' trips and honeymooners
  • Sheltered private balconies - The balcony is set into the building so you can avoid the wind. You also can't see anyone else on their balcony from yours.
  • Activities by the pool and on the beach - Bocci Ball, Beach volleyball, Water Aerobics, Yoga, and fun interactive games.
  • Every water sport imaginable right from the beach.
  • View of ocean from the pools - I like when I can in a lounge chair at the pool and see the ocean. This presents a bit of a challenge in windy Aruba as you will read about below in Potential Deal Breakers.
  • Nightly entertainment including Disco
 Circus Show

Needs improvement 
  • The Four a la carte restaurants require reservation, but you can only make reservations between 8 am - 11 am for that day or the next day. We heard guests complain they had to try for four days to get their choice of restaurant. Reviews of the restaurants were hit or miss.
  • Staffing in the buffet. It was difficult to get drink refills and plates cleared. 
  • Information about activities. The paper we got at check in was not correct and I never figured out where to find the correct schedule.
Potential deal breakers 

  • The rooms. The rooms are very simple. They are clean, but lack some style and functionality.

  • The pools have a lot of leaves and sand. The downside of being able to see the ocean is that a lot of leaves and sand blow into the pool. The resort should be skimming the pools a lot more - especially the swim up bar. We solved this deal breaker by using the exchange privileges at the next door RIU Palace Aruba. It's a family resort. The pool is blocked by a concrete wall so you lose the view, but gain a sparkling pool.
Pool at RIU Palace Aruba

  • It's really windy. Some of the guests complained that they didn't like getting pelted by sand as they relaxed on the beach or by the pool.  We liked how the breeze kept it cool.
If you'd like to explore if this resort is right for your vacation, email me or set up a time to chat. Remember, my vacation planning services are free when you book through me.

Travel Tuesday: An Insider Look at Aruba

For today's Travel Tuesday, we took an insider's look at Aruba.

Aruba is a great option for travelers looking for fun vacation in the sun.

If you have any questions about Aruba, please email me or set up a time to chat.

Latest Deals: All-Inclusive Vacations

Generations Riviera Maya is offering a free dolphin encounter for stays at least 3 nights through next April. You have to book (hopefully with me) by July 31st.  Remember this resort? This is the one with balcony swim out suites.

Click here to read more.

Funjet Vacations is offering a big fall deal with up to 50% off plus room upgrades at select resorts.

  • $430 per person for 3 nights at Chic Punta Cana all-inclusive adults only resort August 24 - October 25, 2016
  • $352 per person for 3 nights at RIU Palace Pacifico all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta Mexico with an upgrade at a partial ocean view junior suite October 27 - December 13, 2016
Click here to explore more deals.
Price is per person based on double occupancy. Prices are subject to change based on party size, inventory availability and departure period.

Additional savings available on Secrets, Dreams and now resorts.
Secrets Royal Beach, Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Save $1,500 over Labor Day weekend package at the adults only all-inclusive Secrets Capri Riviera  Depart Thursday September 1st from Chicago O'Hare, stay 4 nights in a Preferred Club Tropical View Room, and return Monday September 5th including roundtrip flights for $2,118 per couple. Prices are based on double occupancy and subject to change. Availability is not guaranteed.

Email me or set up a time to chat to check the deal from your city.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Travel Thursday: Latest Updates from Walt Disney World and Disney Cruises

This week's Travel Thursday focuses on the latest updates from Disney World and Disney Cruises

  • 2017 Packages will be available for booking June 21, 2016.
  • New Dining Package at Tony's Town Square Restaurant in Magic Kingdom
  • New Evening Safari Experience at Animal Kingdom
  • Advanced Reservations are now available at Jungle Skipper Canteen

2017 Packages will be available for booking June 21, 2016
The wait is over! The 2017 packages will be available for booking June 21st. Those of you on my waiting list have already gotten an email. If you'd like to one of the first to book your 2017 Disney vacation package, email me.

New Dining Package at Tony's Town Square Restaurant
Combine a three course lunch with access to a reserved viewing area of the Main Street Electrical Parade.  The cost is $45 for adults, $17 for children plus tax and gratuity. It is one table-service entitlement on the Disney Dining Plan.

New Evening Safari Experience at Animal Kingdom

Elephant in the Harambe Wildlife Reserve

Board a private safari vehicle to explore the Harambe Wildlife Reserve. And, while enjoying the exclusive views, you can indulge in a sampling of Africa-inspired tapas, paired with an all-inclusive selection of regional beers and wines. The package also includes professional photographs of this unique experience.

The cost is $169 per Guest (tax not included). Valid Theme Park admission is required, and each participant must be at least 8 years old. Each experience is limited to a maximum of 12 Guests. Inclement weather conditions and other factors may affect schedules, and offerings are subject to change without notice.

Advanced Reservations are now available at Jungle Skipper Canteen
Jungle Skipper Canteen has switched from same day reservations to advanced reservations. You can grab your seat at this Asian and African inspired eatery up to 180 days in advance.

Steak Salad at Jungle Skipper Canteen

Disney Cruise Updates
  • Starting June 7th, you will be able to pre-book two Character Meet and Greet opportunities on Disney cruises.
  • New Updates to the Disney Wonder
  • New promotional rates on select sailings
You can pre-book Character Meet and Greet opportunities.
Beginning on Tuesday, June 7, 2016, you will have the ability to pre-book two Meet & Greet opportunities with Disney Characters through the My Disney Cruise section of Guests sailings on cruises of 7-nights or longer that feature at least two sea days will also have the opportunity to pre-book a special Character Breakfast online.

If you are interested in pre-reserving tickets for the Princess Gathering, Frozen Meet & Greet or a Disney Character Breakfast (if applicable) during their cruise, encourage them to visit the My Disney Cruise section of on or after Tuesday, June 7, 2016 to pre-book these experiences.

New Updates to the Disney Wonder
The Marvel Super Hero Academy will be added to Disney's Oceaneer Club. An exclusive Tiana's Place restaurant will bring southern-style cuisine to the Wonder. Plus After Hours, a new adult district, will feature an all-new night club and a brand new English pub.

After the Disney Wonder undergoes dry dock Sept. 9-Oct. 23, 2016, in Cadiz, Spain, the wave of new enhancements debut on sailings starting Nov. 10, from Galveston, Texas.

The Disney Wonder will continue to sail from Galveston to the Bahamas and Caribbean, until the ship sails to San Juan, Puerto Rico on Jan. 20, 2017. On Jan. 26, 2017, a three-night cruise aboard the Disney Wonder takes guests from San Juan to Port Canaveral, Fla., where the ship will homeport for the spring.

New Promotional Rates on Select Sailings including 7 night Caribbean Sailings and shorter Bahamian sailings.

To give you an idea:
7 Night Western Caribbean Cruise (Port Canaveral, Florida)
from $1,750* per person Based on double occupancy
Taxes, Fees, and Port Expenses of approximately $122  per person not included
For 10/29/2016 sailing aboard Disney Fantasy
Category 5A Deluxe Ocean view Stateroom with Veranda

Want to learn more about taking a Disney cruise? Check out this online brochure.

*Rates in U.S. dollars and valid through June 30, 2016. Offer is subject to availability. Other restrictions may apply. All amounts subject to change. Gratuities and excursions are not included. See Disney Cruise Line website for applicable Terms and Conditions.

If you are ready to play your Disney vacation or Disney cruise, email me or schedule a time to chat.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

What Hurricane Season Means for Your Vacation

Happy Travel Tuesday! Today on Facebook Live, I talked about what you need to know to travel during hurricane season.

Hurricane season runs June 1st through November 30th.

My Radar App Screen Shot from Yesterday

This season impacts Hawaii, Mexico, most of the Caribbean, the gulf coast of the US, and Florida and the Carolinas. Many people want to vacation in the summer or fall in so I caution them about what the weather impact of hurricane season could be on their vacations.

So let's break it down:

Cruises are a good bet during Hurricane Season as long as you don't get seasick. The reason why is cruises can adjust their itineraries to avoid the path of the storm as long as the storm isn't hitting their embarkation port. For instance, if a hurricane or tropical storm is headed towards the Eastern Caribbean, the ship can switch to a Western Caribbean itinerary to avoid the storm. Now this could be very disappointing to you if you would had your heart set on going to a particular island on that itinerary.

All inclusive resorts
For travelers heading to an all-inclusive resort,  I strongly recommend purchasing Cancel For Any Reason insurance. This insurance gives you a full refund as long as you cancel before your flight takes off. I've been able to use this insurance to move people from Mexico to Jamaica depending on the path of the storm.

If flying to/from areas in the hurricane zone, try to get the first flight of the day. The plane usually will have landed the night before so you have less chance of delay. Avoid the last flight of the day. This flight has an increased chance of delays or cancellations.  Pay close attention to your connection cities. Try to connect to city outside the hurricane zone.

Home Rentals
Home rental services have gotten very popular. If you are going to take the risk of renting a home in a hurricane area during hurricane season, be sure to do your homework. What the terms and conditions for cancellation if the home sustains damage before your arrival? Is the home in an evacuation area? What would you need do to shelter in place?

Vacationing during hurricane season can still be fantastic. Vacationing during hurricane season can still be fantastic. My job as a travel agent is to make sure you have the information you need to make a great vacation decision.